The head-scratcher was why the ABA, which has been granted the authority to accredit law schools for reasons that haven’t aged well, decided that Texas needed yet another new one when it conditionally approved one at the University of North Texas-Dallas. Were there not enough unemployed, starving new lawyers vying for jobs at Dairy Queen already?
The answer may be found in the critique of this inexplicable decision at the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Texas as a state has no shortage of lawyers. However, UNT has sought to train lawyers interested in representing lower-income residents by admitting students from more diverse, and non-traditional backgrounds. The school, which was launched in 2014, also placed a lower priority on LSAT scores than many institutions. Instead, it looked for work experience and other accomplishments that indicated applicants could succeed in classes and on the bar exam. And UNT is charging thousands less in tuition and fees than even other public law schools in the state.
One would have thought that the purpose of a law school was to train lawyers. Some might be public defenders. Some might do mergers & acquisitions. All would leave law school with a degree that allowed them to practice any area of law they chose, with the caveat that they could pass the bar exam. For UNT, that was the catch. Admitting students to law school because of their ability to ride unicorns on rainbows didn’t correlate nearly as well with having the intellectual capacity to pass the bar as passionate reformers wished.
But when the rationale for a school’s very existence is to “train lawyers interested in representing lower-income residents,” as opposed to competent lawyers, that makes this “underground” movement in the legal academy scary as hell. It’s called the “Guerrilla Guides To Law Teaching,” and if I was a guerrilla, I would be pissed.
This “mission”-based approach is a “new web-based course resource for incorporating social movements into law-school classes. It is produced by Amna Akbar (Ohio State), Sameer Ashar (UC-Irvine), Bill Quigley (Loyola-NO), and Jocelyn Simonson (Brooklyn).” Remember when law professors were hired to teach, you know, law? And their students were able to pass the bar exam and actually become lawyers? Good times.
It’s not just that lawprofs are now invested in the notion that their politics, progressive because of their cognitive emotions, should guide their indoctrination of students. It’s that they are now seeking to alter the core of a legal education from teaching what the law is to what they feel the law ought to be. They even have a “mission.”
- Building Solidarities. Collaborate & talk with each other, our students, impacted communities, & organizers about meeting this moment with creativity, community, & an open heart.
- Advancing Resistance. Bring lived experiences, the material conditions under which people live, & histories of collective resistance of marginalized people into the classroom.
- Broadening & Deepening Discourse. Name the Politics of Law & Expand the range of discourse in the classroom to include radical & left politics, & the imaginations & critiques of marginalized communities.
- Radical Interventions. Embolden law teachers to teach, talk, & practice law & lawyering differently.
Bet you didn’t know this is what your tuition dollars were going for. You probably thought you were paying tuition so that some prawf would teach you, oh, torts or secured transactions. Sure, there was a third year elective in Law & Nietzsche, where your eyes would learn such gems as
Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.
Except that won’t be on the bar exam. Not even the Multistate portion. So what is it these guerrilla teachers think you need to learn?
In our experiences, lawyers fighting for justice share many of the following characteristics. They develop and maintain a deep commitment to working with, not for, marginalized groups of people. They commit to learning from and with marginalized groups of people. They continuously study and develop theories of how just change comes about. They are willing to join in challenges to power even when doing so makes the lawyers uncomfortable. They acknowledge and struggle against their privilege. They humbly acknowledge the tremendous gifts that struggling for justice with others confer on lawyers. They learn how to step back and let organizations of people lead. They create alternative ways of practicing law. They accept less power, recognition and compensation.
And what law student doesn’t want to “fight for justice”? After all, did you go to law school to fight for injustice? Aren’t you willing to “accept less power, recognition and compensation” when your cause is justice? So what is this “justice” of which they speak?
A place to start is to name the politics of law—its relationship to white supremacy, cisheteropatriarchy, capitalism, and neoliberalism. The typical absence of this naming obscures the hegemonic political project of law, making us all subservient to its politics, disabling us from real structural critique or imagining alternatives for law and lawyering. From there we can imagine radical alternatives.
Here’s a radical alternative for you. Spare students your hegemonic jargon, empty rhetoric and social justice tears and teach them the law as if they might someday have to pass the bar exam so that they can eventually become lawyers.
Much is made of academic freedom, that teachers be given the latitude to explore scholarship outside the box without fear of reprisal, like getting fired for sucking as a teacher because of the inability to distinguish the subject matter you’re being paid to teach from your indulgence in whatever flaming nutjob causes are nearest and dearest to your hearts.
It’s not that a the law school at University of North Texas-Dallas will never be accredited. It’s that the students were misled, lied to, when they dedicated their time and money to getting a law decree from a school more concerned with progressive politics than educating students.
And if this all sounds mean and harsh, wipe the tear from your weepy eye and give this some thought: those “lower-income residents” for whom you pretend to teach law students deserve competent counsel just like everyone else. Not the radicalized ninnies your guerrilla curriculum is doomed to create.
If your feelz make it impossible for you to do your job and teach students to become lawyers, then quit immediately for everyone’s sake. Humbly acknowledge that you are the problem and that you, yes you, suck at being a law professor. Students fail because you failed them. I hear there might be a position open down at the Dairy Queen. It would be perfect for you.